"Sometimes you look up at a mountain and think, 'I can't!' ...And then you climb it anyway."
Alison Levine is a polar explorer and mountaineer who is no stranger to extreme environments. She has survived sub-zero temperatures, hurricane force winds, sudden avalanches….and a career on Wall Street. She is one of the most in-demand keynote speakers, delivering resounding leadership messages that transcend her extreme climbing expeditions and remain relevant in today’s fast-paced business environments. She is able to draw relevant, authentic parallels between mountaineering and business because she has experienced both first hand—on multiple mountains, in multiple organizations, and in multiple industries.
Leadership is everyone’s responsibility – it is not solely the responsibility of the C-level executives or the management team within an organization. It is not just the job of coaches or team owners. Everyone in an organization is responsible for helping to move forward with the mission, but in addition, every single employee/teammate/person must realize it is also their responsibility to look out for the people on either side of them and help them move in the right direction as well.
I am overwhelmed and awestruck. Truly Phenomenal.
—— Sean Elliot, ESPN
Alison Levine is a history-making polar explorer and mountaineer. She served as team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, climbed the highest peak on each continent and skied to both the North and South Poles—a feat known as the Adventure Grand Slam, which fewer than forty people in the world have achieved. In January 2008, she made history as the first American to complete a 600-mile traverse from west Antarctica to the South Pole following the route of legendary explorer Reinhold Messner. Levine completed this arduous journey on skis while hauling 150 pounds of her gear and supplies in a sled harnessed to her waist. She made history again in 2016 when she completed two first ascents: Hall Peak in Antarctica and Khang Karpo in Nepal. Her success in extreme environments is noteworthy given she has had three heart surgeries and suffers from Raynaud’s disease, which causes the arteries that feed her fingers and toes to collapse in cold weather—leaving her at extreme risk for frostbite.
In addition to having tackled some of the most challenging environments in the outdoors, Levine also spent time climbing the corporate ladder. She worked in the pharmaceutical and medical device industry, earned an MBA from Duke University, and spent three years working for Goldman Sachs. She left Goldman in 2003 to serve as deputy finance director for Arnold Schwarzenegger in his successful bid to become Governor of California.
Levine spent four years as an adjunct professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point in the Department of Behavioral Sciences & Leadership and is a board and faculty member at the Thayer Leader Development Group at West Point. She was a contributing author to the book Leadership in Dangerous Situations: A Handbook for the Armed Forces, Emergency Services and First Responders (Naval Institute Press). She also serves as a Senior Fellow at the Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics at Duke University.
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A sought-after consultant and keynote speaker on the subject of leadership development, Levine has addressed audiences ranging from Fortune 500 companies to professional sports teams to the prestigious World Economic Forum at Davos. She is the author of the New York Times best-seller On the Edge: Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest and other Extreme Environments. Having spent prolonged periods of time in some of the world's most dangerous and inhospitable places, she tackles the topics of creating cohesive teams, taking responsible risks and developing no-nonsense leaders that can succeed in times of uncertainty.
Levine is the founder of the Climb High Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of jobless women in western Uganda by training them to be trekking guides and porters in their local mountains, thus allowing them to earn a sustainable living wage through climbing-related tourism. Her efforts enabled the first group of local women to climb Uganda’s highest peak—Mt Stanley, and her work in Africa is the subject of the PBS documentary Living Courageously.
Levine’s newest role is that of executive producer of the upcoming documentary film The Glass Ceiling (www.theglassceilingmovie.com), which chronicles the life of Pasang Lhamu Sherpa (1961- 1993) and her quest to become the first Nepali woman to climb Mt. Everest.
Climb High Foundation: Changing the lives of women in western Uganda
The Rwenzori Mountains – which border Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are in an area that has been plagued by border conflicts for decades. Because of the violence in the area, these mountains were closed for many years, but they opened up again in 2001. I planned to go there with some friends in 2005 with the goal of summiting Uganda's highest peak (Mt Stanley), but once we began to research the area, we discovered some shocking facts that changed the mission of the adventure entirely. The Bakonjo are the local tribe that inhabit this area, and within their culture, local women are actually considered property of men. They have few legal rights (if any), and their subordinate social status translates into a lack of access to education and healthcare, low life expectancy (42 yrs) and a life of poverty. Clearly this is unacceptable, and we wanted to help these women level the social and economic playing field. Of course the best way to do that is to give them some economic power. Given the mountains were right there in their backyard, teaching them skills that would allow them to benefit from trekking and climbing-related tourism would enable them to earn a sustainable living wage which would lead to an improved quality of life for them and their families. We started small – and initially trained 7 local Bakonjo women to work as porters and trekking guides and then got them jobs in Rwenzori National Park — which is HUGE because it was the first time these women had ever earned an income. With the money they earn they are able to make meaningful, long-term improvements to their quality of life. When I returned home I started an organization called the Climb high Foundation to help these women and have since returned to the area several times to train more and more women to work in these jobs. For me, it’s never about reaching the top of a mountain. It’s about having some impact along the way.